Unless you live under a rock, which admittedly I often do, you are most likely familiar with the outrage that accompanied Serena Williams’ behaviour during this year’s US Open Final. If you haven’t come across it, or even if you have, the events are wonderfully summarised in Lydia Willcock’s article. She argues here that double standards, sexism and racist elements have come into play during the event and subsequent fallout. While I completely agree with the points the raises, and am of the opinion that William’s was treated different due to her gender and perhaps skin colour, which is without question unacceptable, this is also an example of a much more widespread issue.
For me, the concept of feminism is very simple; women and men should be treated as equals. This does not, in my opinion, mean that a woman should be treated like a man, or vice versa, but rather an implementing an entirely new definition of how we treat people in society, utilising and eradicating elements from both sides of the story. Simply, what I mean is that just because a man can get away with something negative does not mean I should be able to as well. I don’t want to be able to wolf-whistle or cat-call men in the street, make sexist remarks or take part in derogatory and degrading conversations about men. I don’t want anyone to able to do this. The bottom line is that, as a professional tennis player, Serena Williams’ behaved anything but professionally. You would not tolerate, nor expect, the same behaviour in any other field, during a meeting or in a hospital for example, so why should we allow it on a tennis court? Moreover, in her chosen occupation she has agreed to present herself publically which, whether she likes it or not, comes with immense responsibility. The example she is setting by acting in such an explosive, aggressive and childish fashion is not one which we should be setting. Serena, in particular, is a representative of women, African-Americans and of herself, and I know that I would not want to present myself, or be represented, in this way.
It is hugely important and commendable that she stood up for herself when facing discriminatory treatment, but the way in which she conducted herself is not how progress is going to be made. Ultimately, I believe that she should have faced regulatory punishment, but so should every other male tennis player who has done the same if not worse. As women, we can’t excuse behaviour simply because a is it apparently acceptable for a man. If we did this, would we not end up transforming into the stereotype we are fighting to remove from society? The best way we can continue to move towards the culture we are fighting for is to lead by example, to teach others how to improve and not to become part of the problem. I have immense sympathy for Serena and the way she was treated, but I don’t believe bad attitudes and immaturity can be justified just because a man can get away with it (for now, hopefully).